This is the first article in a series regarding the Rumpke landfill. Each week, we will publish interviews with different people - from the community, Rumpke, and the Board of Health - to paint a better picture of the questions and concerns residents have, the facts that Rumpke and the Board of Health want residents to know, and about Rumpke's role in the Georgetown community.
Charles, a former Brown County Sheriff and a retired ODOT employee, and Eleanor Ernst have owned land on US 68 since 1972 - long before the local landfill was ever built.
In 1992, the Ernsts built their house - before issues with the landfill were as strong and opinionated as they are today. They are proud to call their 14 acres home, even after the landfill area was purchased in 1984.
The Brown County Rumpke landfill is approximately 1,216 acres, but only 224 acres of the facility are used for waste disposal.
"We've tried to be good neighbors for years," Charles Ernst said, referring to a comment Rumpke made in the past about wanting to be good neighbors in their communities. "The past six years they keep telling me that they're going to get the odors taken care of, well, they haven't."
The odors are the Ernst's main concern, as well as the confusing information they say the Board of Health as well as Rumpke give about the complaint and citation process.
They find it hard to believe that with so much community opposition to the landfill, it has never been given a citation.
At their home on Thursday, Nov. 15, the Ernsts discussed what it is like being neighbors with Rumpke, as they live right across the street from the massive mountain.
"We can't even go out in the summertime and have a picnic on account of the smell," Charles said. "Now, there's always a smell. I don't care what time or day - it's 24 hours, seven days a week. It's worse at some times than other times. It's just a nuisance that you can't even go out in your yard. It just stinks. It smells like septic. Sometimes it just takes your breath. You can't go outside."
There are also peak smell times, depending on the environment and time of day.
"It depends a lot on the weather - if it's real cloudy and cold at nights when they cover it, then that odor the next morning is terrible when they take the tarp off," Charles said.
Tarps are used each night to cover sections of the landfill that are not filled or finished yet.
"If they are going to dump in the same area the next day, they pull a tarp over it, but there's edges," Charles said. "It's not covering it all. You can come out here at night or in the evenings and see 50-100 buzzards flying around. I don't think they're putting six inches of dirt over it, either - they see dirt as something that cuts down on their capacity to fill it."
A six-inch layer of dirt is used to cover sections of the landfill that are complete.
Another concern for the Ernsts is the fact that Brown County - Rumpke rather - accepts trash from other areas.
"My personal opinion is that each county should take care of their own," Charles said. "I don't know why Brown County should take everybody else's garbage. That should be up to each county individually, not a big company that's controlling everything. That way it would never get that big - you can see how high it is now. As I understand it, they're trying to get a permit to go up another 85 feet. Can you imagine how much worse another 85 feet of that will be?"
"If you go out, you'll notice the MBI trucks - they're hauling from Troy, they're hauling from Miami County, Adams County, and Kentucky, all in those areas into here," Charles said. "They just added another cell which will probably be good for another 50 years - we're just getting garbage from everywhere. Georgetown is just becoming the dumping ground for everybody."
Expansion is another issue of concern for residents like the Ernsts, whose home is now surrounded on all sides by Rumpke-owned land.
"Rumpke keeps expanding," Charles said. "The more they haul in the dump each day - see, they keep increasing their poundage - and the more they haul the more it's going to smell, and not only the smell, it just keeps getting closer and closer to the community."
"I say landfills are a good thing, but they shouldn't be in your village, next to your schools, next to your hospitals, next to your airport, next to your Veterans Home: they should be out in a more barren area," Charles said.
Trash escapes from the landfill or gets blown from trucks almost every day and finds its way on the Ernst's property. The couple used to have a fence up - which was good for catching trash, they said. They showed pictures of the fence, dotted from side to side with bags, paper, and other garbage caught in it.
Charles Ernst took the fence down after it began to rot, and is now out in his yard every day picking up trash. On Thursday morning Ernst counted 21 buzzards flying over the landfill, while 33 were counted circling above state Route 68 and the Ernst's yard. Trash could be seen in a nearby creek - a creek which empties into the larger White Oak Creek nearby.
"When you go home, you'll notice the highway is white or has residue from the trucks on it," Charles said. "That dries and the cars drive through it and that makes dust. We have to pressure [wash] our house twice a year because of the dust and the film from the landfill."
The Ernst family was a highlight on the agenda for a Brown County Board of Health meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 13, where community members voiced their concerns about the odors as well as the confusion regarding the complaint process.
"People don't know what number to call," Charles Ernst said. "I made a sign to put out [in my yard] with the number on it so people will call. But there's such a conflict with the EPA and the Board of Health. You get in with the EPA, and there are so many departments - this one handles this, that one handles that - and it goes around and makes a circle. Who's responsible? Who should do what?"
Representatives from the EPA have answered residents' calls and visited residents' homes to check out the smell, but did not alert representatives from the Board of Health that they were making such visits and listening to the complaints.
"They have to have gotten one for flagging, a safety violation - something," Charles said. "But to have no citations, ever? That can't be right. I can't prove it, but I know some of the equipment's not working properly, just from seeing it myself."
At the meeting, the Board of Health addressed some of the concerns and made sure the residents in attendance knew to contact the Board of Health instead of the EPA.
"Don't call the Ohio EPA," said Stephen Dick, Environmental Health Director. "The number is (937) 378-6892."
The complaint process involves calling or filling out a complaint, and a representative will come out to your location and determine whether or not to move forward with a citation, but some residents wonder why there has to be a complaint process at all if the odor is so obvious, they say.
"Another thing I couldn't understand is why they have to wait for complaint calls to do something about it," Charles said. "If I'm the sheriff and I see someone committing a crime, I'm not going to wait for someone to call it in for me to arrest them."
"My personal feelings are that the Board of Health represents the health of the community," Eleanor said. "Not only are we being affected by it, but our community at large is affected. Everyone smells it. You can smell it clear on the other ends of town. We've complained to Rumpke, and we know several other people who have, too. And what's being done about it? Nothing."
The couple says residents are selling just to get out of the community. Rumpke has never approached the Ernst family to buy their land, but the family does not doubt it happening in the future.
"I'm sure it's in the back of their minds, but why should I sell?" Charles Ernst said. "Somebody asked us, 'why don't you put your property up for sale like all the other people around here?' but why should we sell our home when we have worked all our lives and retired here? We love where we're at: we're proud of the property we have because we keep it mowed and get good comments from people driving by. Even Rumpke has made comments that we keep a beautiful yard."
Representatives from the company even stop by every Christmas and gift the Ernst family a holiday treat basket.
"Last December, Rumpke stopped by and gave us a little gift basket, you know, 'like a good neighbor,' and told me all this stuff about how they were fixing it," Charles said. "And I said, 'I've heard this for five years.' They come every Christmas, but they've never done anything about the smell."
Next week, read what Rumpke has to say about these issues, and the facts they want you to know to alleviate misunderstandings.